Help Portrait

Recently I had the chance to participate in a really cool volunteer event called Help Portrait. It is an event that happens around the world where photographers, editors and other volunteers get together to use their skills and equipment to offer free photo shoots and printed portraits for families in need. The group in my area hosted three locations, and I worked at the registration table at one of them.

I’m not sure what the official count was, but I know that we signed in more than 70 families at our location. It was great to be able to greet the families, see all the children in their best clothes, get them signed in and sent on their way to the hair and makeup area and then their studios for their portraits.

There were 10 little studios set up in the Sunday school rooms at a church that let us use their facility. The photographers brought backdrops and lights and made it really nice. In a larger room, a team of editors were busy taking the memory cards, editing as many photos as they could in 30 minutes, then burning a CD and printing out a few photos.

Picture frames were donated, so one of the best photos was printed out and put in a 5×7 frame. The framed picture and one or two additional 4x6s were then presented to the family, along with a CD of all their images with a photo release included so they can print more pictures themselves or e-mail them.

After the photo shoots, the families waited in an area near the registration table, and so I was able to visit more with many of them. There were tables set up with crafts for the kids to do, and I got to help some of the kids decorate foam photo frames with stickers (all donated) and color a variety of Christmas-themed coloring book pages. A few kids attached themselves to me, climbing in my lap or coming up and hugging me all around my leg. It was so sweet.

In between checking in the families, I got to spend a little time peeking into the doorways of the photo studios, watching some of the families get their pictures made. It was great to see the photographers interact with all of them, especially the little kids, treating them so sweetly and having fun. The faces of the children were fun to watch. Some seemed shy, others were so excited to be dressed up and feeling pretty. One little boy just kept grinning and jumping up and down with his hands in the air.

Around the craft tables I got to see the smiles on their faces when the photographers brought down their printed photos. Everyone seemed pleased and ooohhed and ahhhed. One of my favorite pictures I saw was an older woman kissing her mentally-disabled adult daughter on the cheek. It was so sweet, and the woman was so happy with her experience. She told me it was the best picture they’d ever had made.

For many of the families, this was the first formal portrait they’d ever had. It was the first time many of the younger children had ever been photographed.

I know I take the ability to take photos for granted, to grab every little snapshot I can of my Neffie, to see in pictures how much he has grown and changed. I can’t imagine someone having no baby pictures of their child, or no pictures of their family as a whole.


Giving Christmas, Parts 2 and 3

One of the latest projects Honey Bear and I finished for our holiday giving was buying Angel Tree gifts. We had a great time exploring the toy aisles and goofing around while checking out all the cool stuff.

Here’s what he picked out for the 4-year-old boy he chose:


Here’s what I picked out for an 8-year-old girl (that little thing is actually her “big” gift – an mp3 player):


The other thing we did recently was Honey Bear’s project and one of his favorite things to do this time of year. There’s a business owner here in our city that collects kids’ coats and then distributes them at local schools. I think the school counselors and teachers keep an eye out and give the coats to the kids that need one.

Here are the 6 coats that Honey Bear bought (and picked out himself):


Giving Christmas, Part 1

Honey Bear and I decided not to buy each other any big gifts this year, and instead we are using our money to donate items to causes we support. We have done this to a lesser degree in the past, but this time we are doing more and only buying a few little stocking stuffers for each other.

I have several things in the works, and I’ll try to write about them as we go along. We have had fun so far picking out things and thinking about what we want to do.

Our first project was putting together a hygiene items basket for a family of 4 — 2 adults and 2 children.

3B2D (or 3 Bags in 2 Days) is partnering with a local children’s organization to provide these baskets for the holidays. Honey Bear and I picked out some things such as shampoo, body wash, bar soap, brushes or combs, deodorant, razors and shaving cream, toothbrushes and toothpaste for individual family members, then added some things for the entire family: toilet paper, dish soap, wash cloths, hand soap, facial tissue.

To keep things organized, I divided up the items for each person into festive zipper bags. After we turn in our basket, the folks at 3B2D will add laundry soap and wrap the baskets up all fancy for giving.

Who else has holiday giving projects in the plans for this Christmas season?

Muy bueno

“Jesus is muy bueno,” Jose says to me. He then ticks off his blessings with a big smile on his face. He includes the meal on the plate in front of him at the soup kitchen where I’m volunteering. He adds his life to this list. Life is very good, he says. He tells me a good shop to buy at a discount, and he proudly tells me he’s a Christian and where his church is. He tells me he likes to keep busy, working and volunteering, but he has to save some time to read his Bible. Later I find him washing dishes and whistling, and even later changing out the large garbage can liners with that huge smile of his.

I get the feeling that everything is muy bueno to him, and I think how muy bueno it is that he was my reminder of that today.

V is for volunteering

My V post is late because I was actually volunteering. 🙂 I’ve written about it here before, but I just wanted to share a few quotes on the subject.

“Everybody can be great, because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”  – The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”  ~Leo Buscaglia

Love in motion

I volunteer on Wednesdays at a community center in their soup kitchen. Sometimes I do other things to help out there too, but mainly I play waitress. We serve our guests restaurant style. We take their drink order and bring them utensils, then deliver a plate of food to their table. We greet them, ask how they are, chat with the ones who want to chat, smile at the ones who don’t. Some days it is very busy and the time passes in a blur. Other days you have more time to get to know people or to just take a slower pace. There are regulars and newcomers, old people and young, lot of children in the summer when school is out. For the most part everyone is polite and thankful.

Some days I stay after my serving shift and help with another project. The community center provides sacks of food through the area schools for children who are at risk of food insecurity to have something to eat over the weekends. We work in an assembly line, bagging fruit snacks, pudding cups, crackers, ramen noodles, grain bars and other snacks. I like doing this even though it is repetitive because we usually chat amongst ourselves and get to know the others who are helping out, and it is nice to know that what we are doing is helping a kid.

This week a local church I pass by often has their sign reading “Every person should go to church to get away from himself.” While I think it is great to go to church and all, I don’t really go a lot. Partly because of my work hours. But also partly because I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet.

I feel more like I think I should feel in church when I am serving food at the community center. If I had a sign maybe it would say “Every person should volunteer to get away from herself.” I know for sure that helping other people does wonders for my mood, and it sure gives me perspective for my problems.

There’s a sign at the center that says “Volunteers are love in motion.” I like to think that even if I can’t get it together religiously, at least my heart is in the right place.

The refrain of a song I learned in church long, long ago and that has been in my mind lately:
“Jesu, Jesu, fill us with your love, show us how to serve the neighbors we have from you.”